I’ve suffered from anxiety for much of my life. My brain is always racing with thoughts of all the things that need to be done. So much so, that I flit from one thing to the next, usually starting another task before I’ve finished the first.
Believe me, it’s a very inefficient way to get things done. So much mental energy is spent on worrying and shifting gears. Energy that would be much more productive if I were to slow down and channel it into accomplishing one thing at a time.
Several years ago I started practicing mindfulness. Adding in this simple technique to my daily life was a game changer. For just a few minutes a day I sit still and simply BE. I focus my attention on my breath going in and out and how I’m feeling physically, where I’m holding tension in my body. I engage all my senses and notice what is all around me in the moment: the birds singing, the warm sun on my face, a soft breeze.
The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where I got my nutrition education, defines mindfulness as being aware of and attentive to what’s going on inside and outside of your body.
It means not being on “autopilot,” going through the motions of life without a clear connection to what you’re feeling or doing.
According to the American Psychological Association, empirical evidence suggests the benefits of mindfulness include: reducing stress, improving focus and working memory, lowering emotional reactivity, increasing cognitive flexibility, and improving relationship satisfaction, to name a few.
Here are some suggestions from on how you can apply mindfulness to everyday life:
1. Decide to be more mindful.
This may sound obvious, but intention is everything. By simply making the commitment to be more mindful, you prime your mind for being more attentive and aware of what’s going on around you. You’re also more likely to recognize when you’re not being mindful and shift your awareness.
2. Leverage moments of “waiting.”
Whether you’re waiting in traffic, in an elevator, or at your desk waiting for a slow web page to load, our days are filled with moments of waiting. Use those moments as triggers for tuning in. You can close your eyes and take a deep breath, look more thoroughly at the space around you, or simply check in with how you’re feeling at the moment.
3. Listen closely when people speak.
How much of what others say do you think really gets through? How often do you find yourself consumed with thoughts or seeking distraction while someone else is speaking? Listening is a great anchor to mindfulness. Whenever you’re in conversation, aim to pay closer attention, make eye contact, and ask questions to fully take in what the speaker is saying. You’ll gain more insights and form a deeper bond.
4. Notice the senses.
Your senses offer constant invitations to mindfulness because they’re always attentive to the stimuli of the present moment. Linger over a delicious bite of food as you taste it, appreciate the smell of essential oils, gaze at the interesting views of your daily commute, touch someone in a loving way, and hear the murmur of sounds outside your window. If you’re not sure where to start, feel your own heartbeat or the rise and fall of your breath.
5. Seek out nature.
There is something awe-inspiring about nature that easily quiets the mind. Going on hikes to watch the sunset is nice, but you can still experience the mindful benefits of nature almost any day. Look out the window and see the trees swaying in the breeze or step outside for a brief walk during your lunch break. You can even pull up beautiful photos of nature online. Seek out nature as much as you can and observe it closely.
By slowing down intentionally for just a few minutes each day, you can train your mind and body to be more present, focused and relaxed all the time. We are all (and always will be) works in progress, but you can learn how to work smarter, not harder and get more done in less time by focusing on one thing at a time.
I promise you’ll be so much less hectic, panicked, and scattered. And you’ll have more time for fun, relaxation, and joy.